I think it is awesome that there are many allies within Black employee networks and other minority employee resource groups within corporations. It’s a proactive way to show support and make a statement regarding the importance of inclusion and diversity. However, in my humble opinion, this falls short of what is really needed to move the needle with respect to equitable representation at all levels and creating a culture that embraces the unique strengths of our employees regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. What we really need are leaders and employees who form an alliance to achieve the aspirational culture defined by the company’s I&D mission statement. An alliance recognizes the combined strength of its partners to advance both the collective and individuals.
As business-minded individuals, we all understand the need to move from continuous improvement and incremental innovation to strategic and step-change innovative actions to win in an increasingly competitive global economy. Yet, the same is true of our I&D efforts. The time has come for us to do more than meet the minimum requirements. It’s time to put action to our well-crafted words of support for inclusion and diversity. Not because you want to meet a target. Not because it’s the right thing to do. Because creating an inclusive environment for a globally diverse workplace is a competitive advantage. Leveraging all the talent within your company is the only way to get a great return on the investment made in recruiting them. However, it is only when I&D is personal that we can bring about sustainable changes.
Let me explain. When I joined the workforce thirty years ago, there were very few women and those who were here then spent a lot of time focusing on assimilation (e.g. trying to fit into a very male-shaped mold). However, I noticed a significant shift when the wives and daughters of our executives started complaining about the challenges they were facing in the workplace. All of a sudden, work-life balance, childcare, and flexible work became important to the men in power. Because it became personal. When someone you know and care about is struggling, you want to do everything in your power to help them out. These weren’t uncaring men. It just took a while for women’s issues to become their issues.
In a recent conversation with a diverse group on racial equality, I was curious as to why a group of late-career or retired white men and women cared about the topic. Once I learned that they were either an immigrant to the U.S., in a biracial relationship, or had biracial grandchildren, it all clicked. Before that, other races were just that, other. When something doesn’t concern you, it doesn’t mean you don’t care. It’s just not something you think about on a day-to-day basis. I understand that. However, our success as a species depends heavily on our ability to care about the entire human race. This is what the generation entering the workplace today sees more clearly than the baby boomers who made little progress in this space since shortly after the civil rights movement. I’m with them. I care about more than just my family, my community, and those who I know personally.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Likewise, we must learn to work together, look out for each other, and champion one another for us to create true inclusion. Allies should not be my competition because we are on the same team. Because we care, our mission should be to do all that we can to break down silos in the workplace and help the next generation to succeed where we could not. As an alliance, we can work together to tap into the strengths and capabilities of all the amazing people that we hire and channel their collective energy into building better companies, better work environments, and a better world. When we leverage the capabilities of the entire diverse workforce and make everyone feel valued, we all win.